I Was Asked To Reassess Mackenzie Blackwood’s Performance, So I Did

New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29): Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (29): Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils had their most embarrassing night of hockey in five years on Wednesday night. It was literally depressing to be a Devils fan. There was nothing positive to take from a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. We were all emotional after it, and everyone was all over the place with their opinions. Including me. I wrote a scathing piece on the entire performance, but more specifically, I was very hard on Mackenzie Blackwood.

Because of this line:

"How did this happen? Mackenzie Blackwood was terrible, for one. The blame can’t go solely on his shoulders because the Devils only scored one goal. Sure, the Coyotes goalie stopped a ton of shots, and he made some quality saves in the first period. The Devils have been “goalie’d” before this season, but the effort in the third period doesn’t let them off the hook with that easy excuse."

It’s one line in a piece that hit a lot of ideas and opinions on the Devils performance not only last night but over the long period of losing we’re currently dealing with. A lot of my work is predicated on that emotion. Funny story, today is my five-year anniversary of taking over the Pucks and Pitchforks site. When I got this site, it was an afterthought in terms of covering New Jersey Devils hockey. Today, we’ve grown into a space of Devils fandom, and I really appreciate all the people who have followed us along the way.

Now back to the topic at hand. Mackenzie Blackwood being terrible. Let’s reassess my assessment. A member of the Devils contingent reached out to me to say they were not happy with that opinion, and I appreciate that kind of discourse. When my opinion is over the line, I will gladly go back and see if I agree with the opinion of others. So, let’s do that.

Blackwood didn’t face a ton of shots last night. The Coyotes only had 17 shots on the night, and yet they scored four goals. Blackwood’s save percentage was under .775. On the surface, that is indeed terrible. Blackwood can’t go into any game with a save percentage under .800. We don’t think anyone would argue that.

Next. 5 Goals To Achieve For Rest Of Season. dark

However, the game of hockey isn’t played on the surface (well, technically it’s played on an ice surface). Assessing goalies has been incredibly difficult for the analytics community because of how many factors go into making a save, and how to assess the quality of save each and every time. Maybe a high-danger chance is a one-off breakaway where Blackwood makes a glove save. Or maybe, the other team gets three shots due to bad rebound control.

So let’s take a look at the goals, one by one. The first goal by Dysin Mayo came after a screen from Liam O’Brien in front. However, Blackwood has seen worse screens before. This one was effective because he lost the puck. Mayo sent it to the top of the net with a wicked shot. When assessing blame on this, it really feels 50-50. Christian Jaros needs to drill O’Brien out of the way, or do something to clear the front.

The second goal comes after a pretty terrible turnover by Ryan Graves. He gets nothing on the pass as he tries to send it to Yegor Sharangovich. It’s stolen, and Anton Stralman sends it towards the net. Blackwood does a kicking motion hoping it goes to one of his defensemen. Graves was still covering a man in the corner and was late getting over to cover Loui Eriksson. He was able to send a rebound towards Blackwood, and then a third rebound was put in the net by Lawson Crouse. This was a really bad sequence by Graves, who for the most part has been really good this season. Blackwood does expect more from his best defensemen.

On the third goal, Travis Boyd just had a ridiculous deflection on a Clayton Keller shot. It is what it is.

Then, there is the fourth goal. Phil Kessel sends a no-look pass from behind the net right to Ty Smith‘s stick. He stops it but then skates past it. He basically teed up a pass for Crouse to send to Johan Larsson. Blackwood was in position, but he couldn’t make the save.

So, after looking at each goal one by one, it’s hard to put the blame entirely on Blackwood. We will say this, however. Blackwood has not been there to make THE save. This isn’t to say he hasn’t made some phenomenal saves this season. He’s been a highlight reel at times. However, when the Devils absolutely need him to overcome the adversity of the moment, there are times when he hasn’t.

The assessment of Blackwood is hard right now. The Devils have been without Dougie Hamilton for a few weeks, and that’s really impacted the defense as a whole. Switching Smith’s partner from P.K. Subban to Christian Jaros has had an immense effect, and then taking Hamilton off Graves and putting him with Severson has had the biggest impact on this team’s defense. The Devils needed Blackwood more than ever.

Blackwood is also hurt. He has had a heel injury for the entire season. That has to be impacting his play. Many Devils fans are giving up on Blackwood. That’s way too early. There are a million circumstances as to why he is having the season he is having. However, if there is something wrong with him and it’s causing him to have these types of performances, then the Devils should shut him down until he’s healthy. The Devils need a goalie very badly, but they don’t need to ruin the confidence of their future number one to save an already lost season.